Charles A. Madison, "Anarchism in the United States," Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 6, No. 1, (Jan., 1945), pp. 46-66


By Charles A. Madison


The seed of anarchism was imbedded in the first established state. It was immanent in the primitive individual's natural negative reaction against his forced compliance to the will of the tribe. Later it became the cry of the rebel who refused to bow to organized authority; the credo of the idealist who discovered that power corrupts and must be destroyed at the source. These anarchists, decrying the yoke of government and cherishing liberty more than life, dreamt of a society in which the individual was completely free to live by himself if he so wished or to join his neighbors in voluntary association for the common good. Since it was in the very nature of government to exercise constraint, they were opposed to any communal organization which arrogated authority over its individual members. Peter Kropotkin, perhaps the most persuasive exponent of this doctrine, defined it as "the most complete development of individuality combined with the highest development of voluntary association in all its aspects, in all possible degrees, in all imaginable aims; ever changing, ever modified associations which carry in themselves the elements of their durability and constantly assume new forms which answer best to the multiple aspirations of all."1

While the attitude of mind which gives rise to anarchism is as old as recorded history, its development into a social doctrine is relatively a modern phenomenon. Aristippus and Zeno among the Greeks and isolated obscure libertarians during the following two millennia had tried more or less timidly to repudiate the prevailing authoritarianism, but their voices were mere cries in the wilderness. After the fall of Rome the dominant Catholic Church effectively discouraged these heretical speculations throughout its long period of temporal power.

With the flowering of the Age of Reason in the latter half of the eighteenth century anarchistic ideas again came into currency in the more advanced countries of Europe. Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and others deprecated the abuses of authority and played gingerly with the notion of a society without a government. The first modern systematic exponent of anarchism was William Godwin, whose Inquiry Concerning Political Justice appeared in 1793. Strongly influenced by the sentiments of the French Revolution, he argued that since man is a rational being he must not be hampered in the exercise of his pure reason. Moreover, since all forms of government have irrational foundations and are consequently tyrannical in nature, they must be swept away. Laws likewise, being not the product of wisdom but the result of fear and greed, should be annulled and replaced by the decisions of reasonable men. Accumulated property, being a means of exploitation, must be redistributed; in a later edition, however, Godwin changed his mind about the pernicious effect of property. The book, for all its regurgitation of previous thinkers and the weasel words in the final revision, was a work of fresh stimulation and became a beacon to generations of rebels.

A half century later Pierre Joseph Proudhon developed a mass following for anarchism. His fundamental credo was that "Justice is the central star which governs society."2 He rejected any institution which did not square with his conception of justice, and the state and the church received his chief condemnation. He later came to favor private property as the safeguard of freedom, and opposed only the accumulated possessions of the rich because they were used to exploit the poor. He was opposed to capitalism for the same reason and urged the abolition of interest, which he regarded as the chief cause of our economic ills. In its place he proposed a system of mutualism, providing free credit and equitable exchange, as a means of overcoming exploitation and making possible the simultaneous existence of individual sovereignty and voluntary co-operation -- the basic principles of all types of anarchism. "The ideal republic," he explained, "is a positive anarchy. It is liberty free from all shackles, superstitions, prejudices, sophistries, usury, authority; it is reciprocal liberty and not limited liberty; liberty not the daughter but the Mother of Order."3

Caspar Schmidt, better known as Max Stirner, was at the same time developing the doctrine of egotistical anarchism in his provocative book, The Ego and His Own. Repelled by the sentimentalism of the utopian socialists as well as by the authoritarianism of Hegel's absolute state, he stressed the complete supremacy of the individual. He argued that the highest form of civilization is predicated upon the assumption that each human being is a sovereign unto himself and free to follow his own bent. In the process he formulated a philosophy of egoism which disdained all social and ethical standards. "A fig for good and evil! I am I, and I am neither good nor evil. Neither has any meaning for me. . . . For me there is nothing above myself."4 Consequently he, as egoist, laughed at the claims of others when they conflicted with his own needs and desires. His proposed League of Egoists was a utopia of petty bourgeois in revolt, and late in the century attracted a considerable number of romantic bohemians. Ironically enough, the hard selfishness of this individualist anarchism was admirably adapted to the "rugged individualism" of modern capitalism.

Michail Bakunin replaced Proudhon as the leader of the anarchist movement after his return from Siberian exile in 1861. His chief doctrines were a positive atheism, the destruction of the state, and the social revolution. In his view the state was a necessary evil in a lower form of civilization but has subsequently become an instrument of oppression militating against the emergence of a nobler form of society. It "was born historically in all countries of the marriage of violence, rapine, pillage, in a word, war and conquest. . . . Even when it commands what is good, it hinders and spoils it, just because it commands it, and because every command provokes and excites the legitimate revolts of liberty."5 In its place he proposed a free federation of autonomous associations from every sphere of social activity. He rejected political action as a means of abolishing the state and developed the doctrine of revolutionary conspiracy under autocratic leadership -- disregarding the conflict of this principle with his philosophy of anarchism. It was his scheming for control of the First International that brought about his rivalry with Karl Marx and his expulsion from it in 1872. His approval of violence as a weapon against the agents of oppression led to nihilism in Russia and to individual acts of terrorism elsewhere -- with the result that anarchism became generally synonymous with assassination and chaos.

Peter Kropotkin, one of the most cultured and likable of the anarchist leaders, followed Bakunin in condemning the state as the agency of oppression and misrule. A genuine altruist, he put forth the theory of mutual aid -- the free federation of men for the benefit of all. "Mutual aid is, to say the least, as much a fundamental principle in Nature as mutual struggle; while for progressive evolution it is without doubt the more important of the two."6 He believed that the practice of mutual aid would inevitably lead to the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of communal anarchism. "If plenty for all is to become a reality, this immense capital -- cities, houses, pastures, arable lands, factories, highways, education -- must cease to be regarded as private property, for the monopolist to dispose of at his pleasure. . . . There must be Expropriation. The well-being of all -- the end; expropriation -- the means."7 Unlike Bakunin, however, he eschewed the resort to force and depended upon education as a means of persuading mankind of the great benefits of communal anarchism.


While in Europe the idea of anarchism came as a reaction against oppressive despotisms, in the United States the frontier made it a practical necessity long before it was broached intellectually as a weapon against British tyranny. The pioneer living in isolation and the scattered settlers in outlying communities managed as best they could without benefit of government. Even in the established towns along the Atlantic coast the rule of political authority had little of the arbitrary constraint common throughout the older continent. Native Americans grew up in an atmosphere of comparative freedom. They learned early to rely on their own powers rather than on the protective might of the state. When George III attempted to force his will upon them as he had on his subjects in England, he found himself faced with a determined rebellion. Thomas Jefferson and other Revolutionary leaders, influenced by English and French libertarian theories, spoke for both the townsmen and the backwoodsmen when they insisted that the people are the source of all sovereignty. The belief in a minimum of government became a fundamental tenet of the new nation. Americans everywhere affirmed Jefferson's eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

With the passing of time this love of freedom now narrowed to a lazy trickle and now surged forward like a raging cataract. The half century between the final war with England and the conflict between the states witnessed a plethora of reform movements, each offering to the world its peculiar panacea for the good life. Most vociferous were the abolitionists, to whom the existence of slavery was a crying iniquity. When the federal government adhered to the letter of the law in its effort to effect a compromise between the antagonistic sections, it was condemned as an oppressive tyranny. Men like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips renounced their allegiance to it, John Brown openly declared war upon it, and thousands of others regarded it as unfit to command their respect and loyalty.

While many of the abolitionists carried their defiance into the highroad of anarchism, the leading transcendentalists developed their doctrine of individualism with a boldness that led to a like condemnation of governmental authority. Emerson's cadenced encomiums of self-reliance and the sovereignty of the individual echoed firmly through the crowded lyceums from Maine to the frontier. This emphasis on man rather than on the state his young friend and follower Henry David Thoreau carried to its logical extremity with a clarity and conviction that gave classical expression to the philosophy of anarchism.

In his quest of economic freedom Thoreau developed a profound antagonism to all authoritarianism. His impulsion to follow a course of action that squared with his transcendental precepts caused him again and again to rebel against the claims and conventions of society. He was no respecter of institutions and he did not feel himself an essential member of his social group. When he was asked in 1846 to pay his poll tax which he believed was to further the pro-slavery war with Mexico, he preferred to go to jail rather than to support the government. In his famous essay, "Civil Disobedience," where he explained his stand, he asserted that if governmental action "is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law." Later he wrote, "Law never made men a whit more just, and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice."8 It was his firm belief that if enough men who were opposed to injustice resisted passively -- and in this he was the mentor of Tolstoy and Ghandi -- the government perpetrating injustice would soon be driven to capitulation. So far as he was concerned, government was at best an expedient; and he believed that most governments were usually, and all governments were sometimes, inexpedient.

Thoreau conceived of the state in practice as the power of government used by politicians for ends which were frequently deplorable. He strongly objected to such unwarranted arrogation of power and preferred to keep aloof. In "Civil Disobedience" he stated: "I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectively." Yet he did dream of the kind of state of which he would have been glad to be a citizen, and at the end of the same essay he sketched its outline: "There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen."

Thoreau's indictment of the state was obviously the hyperbole of the advocate. While he argued that government is best which governs not at all, he was too wise a philosopher to condone anarchy. "To speak practically and as a citizen," he admitted, "unlike those who call themselves no government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."9 In denouncing the state, therefore, he aimed not so much at its abolition as at the destruction of its oppressive features. And his refusal to compromise with or conciliate the agents of government made him preeminent among the political dissidents of his generation.


Garrison, Phillips, and Thoreau remained within the Jeffersonian orbit, even though they strained at its outer edge. Josiah Warren, who began in his early twenties as a follower of Robert Owen at New Harmony in 1824 and who was for many years an active abolitionist, became the first avowed anarchist in America. Owen's utopian communism irritated Warren's independent spirit and led him to the doctrine of extreme individualism. "Everyone," he asserted, "must feel that he is the supreme arbiter of his own [destiny], that no power on earth shall rise over him, that he is and always shall be sovereign of himself and all relating to his individuality. Then only shall men realize security of person and property."10 To illustrate the practicality of his theory he opened his Time Store in Cincinnati in 1827, and in this respect antedated Proudhon by many years. Here he sold goods at cost plus four per cent for overhead plus the time spent on the sale. The customer was required to pay for this time with an equivalent amount of work. Thus if Warren gave a half hour of his time to a sale, the purchaser obligated himself to return thirty minutes of his own time in work; in the society planned by Warren all occupations were to be equally remunerative and all services were to be paid in kind. The store remained in operation for two years and demonstrated to the owner that "equity and justice in human relations would promote happiness to a degree unattainable in the present selfish scramble for places and power."11 The experiment also convinced him that ''there is no service undertaken by government that could not be more efficiently and more economically performed by associated or individual effort springing naturally to meet the needs of society."12

In 1850, after considerable further study and reflection, he founded on Long Island the colony Modern Times to demonstrate that a group of individuals can live together amicably and advantageously by observing the principle of each minding his own business. Labor notes facilitated the exchange of products of farming and industry. Each member followed his own peculiar bent, and all voluntarily cooperated in performing the social tasks of the community. The experimental character of the small village persisted for about twelve years, but the venture could boast of no greater success than dozens of other Utopian colonies. Warren's interest in it ceased soon after he had satisfied himself that men can be individualist anarchists and still perpetuate the human race. From that time till his death some twenty years later he devoted himself to the advocacy of his doctrine of the stateless society and complete and equal liberty for all.

Stephen Pearl Andrews, Lysander Spooner, and William B. Greene -- all active during the middle half of the nineteenth century -- were among Warren 's earliest disciples. Proudhon 's views, in several respects similar to those of their mentor yet broader and clearer, added to the enrichment of their discussions and conclusions. Greene's Mutual Banking, appearing in 1850, presented the American version of mutualism in its most systematic manner. He argued that while we are all dependent on one another, mutualism ''coordinates individuals without any sacrifice of individuality, into one collective whole, by spontaneous confederation and solidarity."13 Andrews's The Science of Society, published in 1852, was regarded by Warren as the most lucid and complete exposition of his own theory. The first part explained the political doctrine of the sovereignty of the individual as the final development of Protestantism, democracy, and socialism; the second part treated the theory of cost as the limit of price and described it as a scientific measure of honesty in trade, as one which in turn would bring about cooperation and mutual aid. All of these individualist anarchists disregarded or condoned the prevailing capitalism and its constraining consequences. Andrews, in his discussion of the wage system, spoke for all when he declared, "It is right that one man employ another, it is right that he pay him wages, and it is right that he direct him absolutely, arbitrarily in the performance of his labor."14 He merely demanded that "all natural opportunities requisite to the production of wealth be accessible to all on equal terms," and that "monopolies arising from special privileges created by law"15 be abolished.

Benjamin R. Tucker was the most widely known of the American individualist anarchists. He was born in 1854 and arrived at his political philosophy after a study of the writings of Warren, Proudhon, and Stirner. More the advocate than the innovator, he devoted the most active years of his life to the propagation of individual liberty. His chief organ was Liberty, which he issued more or less regularly from 1881 till 1908 and which he made a leading periodical of dissident thought. He also published many inexpensive editions of the best libertarian literature, including the writings of such men as Tolstoy, Shaw, Zola, Wilde, and a number of Americans. By means of this publishing activity as well as by the incisive clarity of his own thinking, in the words of Eunice M. Schuster, he "won the attention and sympathetic interest of the American people more than any other anarchist in the United States."16 Hundreds of men and women admired his doctrine and his work, and many of them cooperated with him in spreading the gospel of individual liberty.

Tucker defined individualist anarchism as "the belief in the greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality of liberty."17 He believed that men can manage their affairs by voluntary association and do not need to subject themselves to the rule of an aggressive government. In answer to those who regarded the state as synonymous with society and feared that the abolition of the one would destroy the other, he explained that the opposite was the case. ''Society is a concrete organism. ... Its life is inseparable from the lives of individuals ... it is impossible to destroy one without the other. But though society cannot be destroyed, it can be greatly hampered and impeded in its operations, much to the disadvantage of the individuals composing it, and it meets its chief impediment in the State."18

The problem of how to maintain equal liberty for all without resorting to force proved a stumbling block to all anarchists. Although Tucker, following Stirner, rejected the idea of moral obligation or the existence of inherent rights and duties, he did acknowledge the duty of society to restrain and punish the invasive individual. "Anarchism," he stated, "does not recognize the principle of human rights, but it recognizes human equality as a necessity of stable society."19 The protection which will assure this equality is "a thing to be secured so long as it is necessary, by voluntary association and cooperation for self-defense, or as a commodity to be purchased, like any other commodity, of those who offer the best article at the lowest price."20 While this protection cannot, in the last analysis, be obtained without the exercise of police power, Tucker maintained that such use of force did not violate the principle of anarchism since it was applied only against aggressive individuals. Yet the mere employment of restraint and punishment must in actual practice entail the use of organized force and thus negate the principle of anarchism.

Much as Tucker condemned the existence of poverty in a land of abundance, he rejected all schemes for social betterment which implied governmental interference or the socialization of the means of production and distribution. He argued that even the best of economic systems would become oppressive and obnoxious if it involved a large-scale burdensome bureaucracy. To his mind the policy of complete non-interference -- assuring free competition in all spheres of economic activity -- would permit wealth to "distribute itself in a free market in accordance with the natural operation of economic law."21 He therefore opposed all forms of monopoly, and criticized especially those of land, money and banking, trade, and patents. He proposed the occupance-and-use formula as the only valid title to land, and indicated that its application would free millions of tillable acres to the poor farmers and enough city property to mitigate the crowded areas in the cities. Yet he objected to forcible measures against landlords, and disapproved of Henry George's land plan because it entailed compulsory state regulation. He also urged complete liberalization of all monetary functions. As a means of eradicating the great evil of usury he proposed "the utter absence of restriction upon the issue of all money not fraudulent."22 Thus anyone in need of money would have the right to issue it -- the paper bills with his signature having the value of promissory notes and their acceptance depending upon the assets and standing of the issuer. This practice would break up the monopoly of money, enable every man to be his own banker, enjoy the full product of his labor, and abolish poverty along with conspicuous wealth.

In the field of trade he was an exponent of free competition and condemned monopolistic capitalism for its throttling of free trade. Most of all he objected to the exploitation of individuals, and explained that only under anarchism will man be truly free. "When interest, rent, and profit disappear under the influence of free money, free land, and free trade, it will make no difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others. In any case they can get nothing but that wage for their labor which free competition determines."23 He disapproved of government ownership because to him state control was the most complete and therefore the most obnoxious form of monopoly. "The government,'' he insisted, "is a tyrant living by theft, and therefore has no business to engage in any business. . . . The government has none of the characteristics of a successful business man, being wasteful, careless, clumsy, and short-sighted in the extreme."24

As a champion of complete individual liberty Tucker disliked all types of communism, including even the one proposed for the stateless society. He insisted on the voluntary nature of all association and pointed out that even the best of socialized communities must encroach upon the liberties of its individual members. For this reason he objected to majority rule, organized religion, and the institution of marriage. He maintained that all these forms of authoritarian activities imply the resort to force, and nothing good or lasting was ever accomplished by compulsion. It was for this reason that he refused to condone the overthrow of the state by violent means. "If government should be abruptly and entirely abolished tomorrow," he explained, "there would probably ensue a series of physical conflicts about land and many other things, ending in reaction and a revival of the old tyranny."25 He therefore preached widespread education and ultimately a passive resistance that was to take such forms as the refusal to pay taxes, the evasion of jury duty and military service, and the nonobservance of other types of compulsion. Once society reached this stage, individual liberty for all would prevail as a matter of course.

The individualist anarchists, for all their rejection of the state, remained in the groove of American democracy. Their philosophy, willy-nilly, sanctioned the "rugged individualism'' of the dominant group of capitalists, and their condemnation of monopoly failed to impress anyone but themselves. The government either ignored or indulged them, and the mass of workers either knew not of their existence or disdained them as impractical dreamers. A few of them are still abroad, but none has the ear of any part of the nation.


Communist anarchism was a foreign importation and clashed with the authorities from the very beginning. Alexander Berkman defined it as "the abolition of government, of coercive authority and all its agencies, and joint ownership -- which means free and equal participation in the general work and welfare."26 It reached this country on a wave of strikes and riots in the late 1870's. A number of radicals, mostly German immigrants, became disgruntled with the reformist views of the Socialist Labor Party and broke away from it in order to create an organization more in keeping with their extreme beliefs. For a while they floundered in the doctrinaire turbulence within the labor movement. Then in 1882 John Most, the dynamic exponent of Bakuninism, reached New York and at once took over the leadership of the dissident groups.

Of illegitimate birth, reared in poverty and harshness, suffering from facial disfigurement, Most grew up hating those in authority. In the middle 1870's, while still in his twenties, he was elected to the Reichstag on the Social Democratic ticket. But his radicalism caused his imprisonment on several occasions, and he had to flee to London, where he became the editor of Die Freiheit, an anarchist weekly. An editorial approving the assassination of Czar Alexander II brought him a jail sentence of sixteen months. As soon as he was released he sailed for New York. At the age of thirty-six he was at the height of his forensic powers and already a legend among radicals. His platform addresses electrified his audiences and his provocative and sarcastic articles appealed to his readers more effectively than any of the other labor writings. Within a few months he succeeded in persuading a considerable number of his admirers that "propaganda of the deed" was the surest way of achieving the social revolution. To instruct his followers in the practical aspects of his doctrine, he published a pamphlet with the self-explanatory title, Science of Revolutionary Warfare: A Manual of Instructions in the Use and Preparation of Nitroglycerine, Dynamite, Gun-Cotton, Fulminating Mercury, Bombs, Fuses, Poisons, etc., etc.

After a year of intensive agitation he called in 1883 a congress of communist anarchists in Pittsburgh. Twenty-eight delegates from twenty-two cities gathered in solemn session and produced the following program:

  1. Destruction of the existing class rule by all means, i.e., energetic, relentless, revolutionary and international action.
  2. Establishment of a free society, based upon cooperative organization of production.
  3. Free exchange of equivalent products by and between the productive organizations, without commerce and profit-mongering.
  4. Organization of education on a secular, scientific and equal basis for both sexes.
  5. Equal rights for all, without distinction of sex or race.
  6. Regulation of all public affairs by free contracts between the autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting on a federative basis.27

The delegates returned to their respective locals determined to spread the gospel among their fellow workers. The focal center became Chicago, where Albert Parsons and August Spies were the energetic leaders. The flurry of unemployment and strikes and the agitation for the eight-hour-day strengthened the hands of the anarchists, and in 1885 Parsons claimed a total membership of seven thousand. His weekly, Alarm, expounded the use of dynamite as the best available weapon against the oppressors of labor. "A pound of this good stuff," he wrote "beats a bushel of ballots all hollow, and don 't you forget it."28 This inflammatory language in the several anarchist periodicals, coinciding with sporadic strikes and violence, alarmed many businessmen and public officials. The fact that most of the anarchists were recent immigrants -- Germans, Russian Jews and Italians -- tended to intensify the prejudice against them. The newspapers, always eager to capitalize on matters of public interest, began to play up the threat of anarchism and reported each strike or labor disturbance as if it were the first blow for the social revolution. Preachers and politicians joined in the attack with an eagerness compounded of fear and Pharisaism. In a short time a large portion of the nation was converted to the belief that the agitators of labor must be exterminated if we were to retain our American way of life.

The eight-hour-day movement was to reach its culmination in a general strike on May 1, 1886. On the appointed day tens of thousands of workers absented themselves from their shops in order to enforce their demand for the shorter workday in public meeting. No disturbances worthy of notice occurred during the demonstrations. On May 3, however, some of the strikers of the McCormick Harvester Company attacked the strikebreakers as they were leaving the factory. The police reserves were called out and in the melee one striker was killed and several were seriously wounded. August Spies, who witnessed the clash, immediately wrote a "revenge'' circular to be distributed to various groups of workers. The next evening a meeting of protest was held at Haymarket Square. The speakers were mostly anarchists, but the gathering was peaceful until a contingent of fresh police appeared on the scene and the captain in charge ordered instant dispersal. Before any protest could be made a bomb exploded with a terrific impact among the men in uniform, killing one and wounding several others. The unharmed police became panicky and fired upon the startled crowd. Some of the workers made quick use of their own revolvers. When the shooting ceased a couple of minutes later seven policemen were dead and sixty wounded; the casualties among the laborers were never determined but the number was probably much higher.

The disastrous explosion and riot shocked the entire nation. The loose and flamboyant talk of the anarchist now assumed a terrifying ominousness in the eyes of the adversaries of labor. In their hysterical fright they perceived themselves deprived of their privileges and even of their lives by the criminal agitators. To stave off bloody revolution they determined to act quickly and destroy the aggressive leaders of labor. Editors, preachers and politicians -- the molders of public opinion -- needed no urging to intensify their campaign of abuse and condemnation against all radicals and particularly against the anarchists. The wild-eyed, bushy-bearded, bomb-throwing agitator -- a caricature of Most -- became a familiar character in the cartoonist's repertory. The very idea of radicalism was everywhere execrated as an alien doctrine which sought to destroy the fundamental American liberties.

Although the anarchists who addressed the Haymarket meeting had been deliberately mild in their criticism of the police and although no evidence was ever uncovered to connect any of them with the unidentified thrower of the fatal bomb, they and several others were arrested, tried for murder, and sentenced to death under conditions which made impartial justice impossible. All the emphatic protest of liberal Americans against this violation of fair play was of no avail in the face of an aroused mob spirit bent on legal lynching. Of the seven defendants condemned to die, one committed suicide, four were hanged, and two had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment. The event shook the nation from end to end and with a vehemence that tore at its social roots. The arbitrary procedure of the police and the hysterical incitement of the press and pulpit stung the conscience of those Americans who believed in democracy and feared capitalistic monopoly. William Dean Howells, Henry Demarest Lloyd and scores of other liberals spoke out repeatedly with exemplary courage for the acquittal of the condemned anarchists. Several years later Governor John P. Altgeld, more interested in rectifying a wrong than in public applause, pardoned the surviving victims in a notable message which exonerated the defendants and exposed the prejudice of judge and jury.

Communist anarchism survived the persecution of the police and reached its greatest activity during the first two decades of this century. Its chief exponent was the colorful and energetic Emma Goldman. A Russian Jewess who had come to this country in 1886 at the age of sixteen and who had experienced the grinding oppression of the sweatshop, she was deeply affected by the trial and execution of the Chicago anarchists and decided to devote her life to the ideals for which they had died. In New York, where she went from Rochester to begin her career as an anarchist, she met John Most and Alexander Berkman and began an intimacy with the latter which profoundly influenced her future activity.

The Homestead strike in 1892 inflamed the minds of the two young rebels. Eager to emulate the Russian nihilists who were then fighting hangings with assassinations, they decided to make H. C. Frick, the dictatorial general manager, pay with his life for the undeserved death of those who had been attacked by his hired gunmen. Lacking the train fare to Pittsburgh for both of them, Berkman went alone. He managed to enter Frick's office, discharged three bullets into his body, and stabbed him several times before he was overpowered and beaten into unconsciousness. Although Frick recovered quickly from his wounds and although the law of Pennsylvania limited punishment for the crime to seven years, the youthful defendant was tried without benefit of counsel and sentenced to twenty-two years' imprisonment.

Emma Goldman worked for his defense with passionate abandon. To her he was "the idealist whose humanity can tolerate no injustice and endure no wrong."29 The thought of her dearest companion suffering the anguish of a living death in one of the worst prisons in the United States caused her to intensify her propagandist activity. The depression of 1893 forced her to devote much of her time to social work on the East Side, and she served bread and leaflets to the jobless with equal zest. As the chief speaker at a mass-meeting on Union Square she excoriated the state for protecting the rich and for keeping the poor starved and enslaved. Paraphrasing Cardinal Manning's dictum about necessity knowing no law, she exclaimed: ''They will go on robbing you, your children, and your children's children, unless you wake up, unless you become daring enough to demand your rights. Well, then, demonstrate before the palaces of the rich; demand work. If they do not give you work, demand bread. If they deny you both, take bread. It is your sacred right!"30 For this speech she was arrested, charged with inciting to riot although the meeting was peaceable, and sentenced to one year's incarceration in Blackwell's Island Penitentiary.

Confinement only strengthened her zeal to spread the gospel of anarchism among the workers. As soon as she was able she again began to address those who would hear her. In the late 1890's she undertook her first continental lecture tour. Her energy seemed inexhaustible, and her tongue of fire ignited the hearts of many who had come to scoff. Everywhere she was hounded by the police, who broke up her meetings and arrested her at the slightest excuse; . but everywhere also she found one or more libertarians who believed in free speech and were willing to defend it with their goods and their bodies. With their devoted assistance she was able to deliver her message to many thousands each year and to thwart the numerous efforts of the police to silence her.

In March 1906 she launched her monthly magazine Mother Earth as a means of furthering the doctrine of communist anarchism. In the first issue she explained that its purpose would be to "oppose encroachment on public and individual life" and to fight "for a humanity free from the dread of want, the dread of starvation in the face of a mountain of riches. The Earth free for the free individual.'' Many prominent libertarians contributed essays of a philosophical and hortatory nature. Emma's own articles and the poems and prose pieces by others helped to stamp the pages of the monthly with a vigor and exuberance not found in any other contemporary periodical. Its several thousand readers were deeply devoted to it and supported it with their limited means until the postal censor put an end to it shortly after the declaration of war on Germany in 1917.

Emma's writings are in truth an outpouring of her ardent reactions against oppressive social forces, the transmission of assimilated ideas on the wing of quick and cogent eloquence. The faithful disciple of Bakunin and Kropotkin, she perceived civilization as "a continuous struggle of the individual or groups of individuals against the State and even against 'society,' that is, against the majority subdued and hypnotized by the State and State worship."31 Anarchism, to her the only possible solution to human happiness, she defined as "the philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestrained by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary."32 In her oft-repeated lecture on the subject she stressed the benefits to ensue from social revolution: "Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes and inclinations."33 It was her belief that sooner or later the mass of mankind will perceive the futility of asking merely for crumbs and will take power into its own hands by direct action. Once the state and capitalism are destroyed, anarchism will in actual practice assume the form of free communism, which she described as "a social arrangement based on the principles: To each according to his needs; from each according to his ability."34 It must be stressed that although the wording is common to all forms of communism, that of Marx and Lenin implies strict centralized authority, while that of Kropotkin and Emma Goldman envisions complete voluntary decentralization and the supremacy of the individual.

Shortly after America's entrance into the First World War in 1917 Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman (who had been enjoying uneasy liberty since 1906 and whose Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist was generally accepted as a first-rate sociological document), ran afoul of the Department of Justice because of their anti-war stand and were each sentenced to serve two years in prison and to pay a fine of ten thousand dollars. On their release they became subject to deportation, although Emma had long been a citizen by virtue of her early marriage, and on the night of December 21, 1919, they with 247 other "undesirables" were hurried aboard the ancient troopship Buford for passage to Russia.


It is a significant fact that communist anarchists, unlike the individualist anarchists, were mostly workers and closely connected with labor organizations. They thought of themselves as the extreme left wing of the mass movement seeking the abolition of capitalist exploitation; they did not hesitate to go along with the socialists, whom they otherwise disdained as confused doctrinaires, in any direction which led to the social revolution. They were also among the first to respond to the call of strikers who needed help, and their zeal often proved the decisive factor in many a labor victory. Frequently they embarrassed the more conservative labor leaders by their mere presence on the picket line or at workers' demonstrations, but the rank and file usually appreciated their devotion and enthusiasm. As was to be expected, they were especially interested in the activities of the I. W. W. (Industrial Workers of the World), who followed a syndicalist program of direct action, and took a major part in their strikes and in their clashes with the police and the courts.

The anarchist movement in this country suffered almost complete disruption during the war years 1917-1921, when the government attempted to destroy all radicalism by sheer force. The individualist anarchists, being few in number, American in origin, and tainted only by pacifism, were left pretty much alone. The communist anarchists, however, actively opposing the war and ardently defending the Russian Revolution, were jailed and deported by the hundreds. Those who escaped arrest were cowed into outer acquiescence. By the time Attorney-General Palmer retired to a deserved obscurity and the opponents of capitalism were again permitted to make themselves heard, the surviving anarchists lacked the strength and the leadership to resume their former active agitation. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, dedicated after 1921 to fighting Bolshevism and living like Ishmaelites in Europe, exerted little influence on their followers in the United States. Carlo Tresca and others did their best to carry on the fight, but they had neither the fire nor the favorable environment of these two erstwhile leaders. Indeed prosperity and postwar fatigue proved arid ground for all radical movements. Individuals and small groups maintained here and there at least a modicum of anarchist propaganda, but the successful nationwide lecture tours of the pre-war years were no longer possible.

The last flare-up of anarchist activity in this country was occasioned by the tragic Sacco-Vanzetti case. The two Italian radicals, one a shoemaker and the other a fish peddler, were accused of killing two men in a payroll robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts, and sentenced to die in the electric chair. This grievous miscarriage of justice, like the Haymarket and the Mooney-Billings cases, was the poisonous fruit of acute anti-radical prejudice. Fortunately for the decimated anarchists, the liberals of the country, dormant for a decade, hurried to their aid in their effort to save the two victims from electrocution. The fight was long and bitter, and in the end the proud and obdurate Brahmins had their way, but the struggle brought to the fore a large number of Americans who believed in freedom and justice as passionately as their abolitionist fathers and grandfathers. Sacco and Vanzetti died, but the spirit of liberty they had championed lived in the hearts of thousands.

In the 1930 's a number of the surviving anarchists, with Carlo Tresca at their head, became involved in the factional strife among the communists, and in their natural opposition to the dominant Stalinists a number of them embraced the cause of the Trotskyists -- ironically the group which Emma Goldman and Berkman found most obnoxious during their unhappy sojourn in Russia. With the assassination first of Trotsky and then of Tresca the small anarchist group in this country practically ceased to function as an organized body.


When the thick crust of prejudice is removed from the popular conception of anarchism, the doctrine assumes an idealistic character bordering on utopianism. As Bertrand Russell put it, "Liberty is the supreme good in the Anarchist creed, and liberty is sought by the direct road of abolishing all forcible control over the individual by the community."35 In their opposition to the state the anarchists presume that men can live together best by means of free and spontaneous cooperation. Yet they do not conceive of a society without order, but of an order arising out of the natural law of association, preferably through self-governing cooperation. Nor do they ignore the advantages of economic combination; yet they insist that such combination must be voluntary and without compulsion of any kind. From their standpoint every individual is a sovereign who finds it desirable to cooperate with his peers for the common good. "In this sense," remarked Thomas Huxley, "strict anarchy may be the highest conceivable grade of perfection of social existence; for, if all men spontaneously did justice and loved mercy, it is plain that all swords might be advantageously turned into plowshares, and the occupation of judges and police would be gone."36

In plucking anarchism from the clouds of egotistical philosophy and thrusting it into the turmoil of the marketplace, Bakunin and his followers have turned it from a daydream into a challenge. They stressed the abolition not so much of the state as of capitalism ; they sought to establish a society by means of social revolution and based on the principles of voluntary association. Judged by their place in the political arena they were, willy-nilly, cheek by jowl with the Marxian socialists; if anything, they were more aggressive in their agitation against the exploitation of labor. Yet their position was largely negative. They had made no effort to bridge the hiatus between complete individual liberty and the social obligations of the modern individual; until men become angels or are possessed by fanatic zeal they cannot be expected to do voluntarily tasks which are not to their liking. Nor are anarchists wholly realistic in their conception of a society fostering at once unrestricted liberty and a limited, simplified economy in a civilization as complex as ours. Max Netlau, the leading historian of anarchism, was keenly aware of this visionary attitude. "I have been struck for a long time," he declared, "by the contrast between the largeness of the aim of anarchism -- the greatest possible realization of freedom and well-being for all -- and the narrowness, so to speak, of their economic program of anarchism, be it Individualist Anarchism or Communist. ... I feel myself that neither Communism nor Individualism, if it became the sole economic form, would realize freedom, which always demands a choice of ways, a plurality of possibilities."37

New York City.


1 "Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal," in Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, ed. Roger N. Baldwin (New York, 1927), 123-124.

2 The Solution of the Social Problem (tr. New York, 1927), 45.

3 Ibid., 45. When B. R. Tucker began to publish his periodical Liberty he placed the last phrase on its masthead.

4 The Ego and His Own (1845; tr. New York, 1907) 7-8.

5 God and the State, quoted by Bertrand Russell, Proposed Boads to Freedom (New York, 1919), 49.

6 Kropotkin, Peter, Mother Earth (June, 1914), 116.

7 The Conquest of Bread (1892; tr. New York, 1927), 22.

8 "Slavery in Massachusetts" in A Yankee in Canada, etc. (1866; Boston, 1878), 105.

9 "Civil Disobedience," Works, ed. H. S. Canby (Boston, 1937), 790.

10 Bailie, William, Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist (Boston, 1906), 103.

11 Ibid., 64.

12 Ibid., 105-6.

13 Fragments (Boston, 1875), 25.

14 The Science of Society (New York, 1853), 149.

15 Bailie, William, op. cit., 105-6.

16 Native American Anarchism (Northampton, Mass., 1932), 152.

17 Instead of a Book (New York, 1893), 365.

18 Ibid., 35-6.

19 Ibid., 64.

20 State Socialism and Anarchism (New York, 1899), 14.

21 Instead of a Book, 347.

22 Ibid., 374.

23 Ibid., 274.

24 Ibid., 265.

25 Ibid., 329.

26 Now and After: the ABC of Communist Anarchism (New York, 1929), 196.

27 David, Henry, The History of the Haymarket Affair (New York, 1936), 99-101.

28 Alarm, February 21, 1885.

29 Living My Life (New York, 1931), 507.

30 Quoted by Eunice M. Schuster, op. tit., 169

31 The Place of the Individual in Society, 3.

32 Mother Earth, April, 1910.

33 Anarchism and Other Essays (New York, 1911), 68.

34 Mother Earth, January, 1912.

35 Proposed Roads to Freedom (New York, 1919), 33.

36 "Government," in Liberty (April, 1907), 55.

37 Mother Earth, July, 1914.